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1.1 Background of the Study
The Igbo is an ethnic group which is predominantly found in South-Eastern Nigeria otherwise known as Igboland, with few others located in South-South Nigeria. “The Igbo are probably the oldest people to occupy the Nigerian space, the sons of the soil and the daughters of the domain” (Udensi 2009:4). They occupy the south-eastern states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo, with sizeable number in Delta and Rivers states South-South region.
“Approximately the Ibo live within latitude 50-70 North of the Equator and longitude 60-80 East of the Greenwich line” (Ilogu: 1985:2). They have a population of about 30 million (Edohasim 2010: 12). The people are industrious and deeply religious. They speak Igbo language with numerous dialects in sub cultural areas. Through these dialects, Igbo culture, tradition, ethics and norms as well as the whole gamut of life are imparted to the children. “Igbo proverbs, idioms, legends, folktales, moral and ethical lessons are drawn from them” (Ifesieh 1985: xiii).
The origin of Ndigbo has for long been shrouded in controversy and continuous academic and intellectual arguments. However, as a result of keen observation of striking resemblance of some aspects of their culture to the Hebrews, some historians, scholars and some Ndigbo themselves hold tenaciously that they migrated from Israel, and therefore, see the race as a migrant group from one of the lost tribes of Israel.
As it were, this school of thought links the Igbo to the Hebrew or Jewish customs of child naming and the meaning attached to the names, which in most cases are linked to the gods or God Almighty. They have resemblance in marriage rites and practice polygamy. They hold certain mythologies and belief in reincarnation. There is also circumcision after eight days. Moreso, in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible, there are various similarities between the Hebrew and Igbo, especially their intense religious nature. “The Igbo probably migrated from Israel to Egypt, then to Sudan, from where they moved southwards to their present location in Nigeria” (Edohasim 2010:12).
However, prior to the advent of the European missionaries and their agents of colonialization in Igboland, the people had belief and a robust religious system, which recognized the existence of Almighty God called Chukwu (The Big God) or Chineke (God that creates) worshipped through divinities, some of which include Ala (the earth goddess) Amadioha (god of thunder), Ahajioku (god of yam) among others. Ndichie, ancestors are revered and venerated. In some sub-cultural areas and communities the four Igbo market days- Eke, Orie, Afo and Nkwo including notable rivers, streams, forests, trees and hills were also deified.
Unlike major world religions, the Igbo Traditional Religion, like other religious systems in Africa has no known founder, it is native and indigenous to the Igbo people. Igbo Traditional Religion therefore, is the belief system which has been handed down from one generation to another. It is in this conceptualization that Ojike aptly and summarily defined it as “Omenani” (Onyeidu 2002:13).
The Igbo belief system also recognizes and acknowledges special category of people known as sacred specialists. These are religious personalities who had acquired knowledge and
skills. “They have derived powers, and are functionaries in the theocratic governance of the world” (Quarcopoome 1989:70). These functionaries are respected men and women in the society, who play the key role of assistance providing solutions to problems in the life of the people. They posses what Mbiti (1969:66) calls “office personality”, which is not a general language or accessible to ordinary members of the society. As such, they have the religious mandate to mediate for the people as they reveal relevant information in the society.
Among the Igbo society, the issue of life, its meaning and preservation is very sacrosanct. It calls for wellness and social order. To this end, never is an unpalatable situation allowed to persist without consultation with forces more powerful than man, in order to gain appropriate insight and ritualistic remedies. Thus in such situations, concerted effort is always made with a view to coming up with an answer or a clearer understanding of the situation from sacred specialists, so that they can assist, manage or control the situation, as the case may be.
They offer pieces of advice on ritual resources; enhance holistic solution techniques, foster socio-cultural, political,
economical, psychological and physiological components of the interaction. The sacred specialists therefore, contribute in no small way as they share and relate with others seeking and addressing events and crisis in their lives, hence they are the friends of the community.
Other terms used in describing these experts are ‘sacred personages’, ‘special men’, ‘sacred men’, (Mbiti 1969:166). On his own Ifesieh (1989:133) calls them ‘ritual symbolic persons’. Anyacho (2005:269) addresses them as ‘religious authorities’. In this work however, the term ‘sacred specialists’ which was also used by Parrinder (1976:100) will feature prominently and interchangably with the above terms. Some of those that belong to this class include the medicine men, priests, diviners/mediums, rainmakers, prophets/prophetess, kings/queens/rulers/ elders etc.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
From time immemorial, the Igbo religious system was traditional, cultural and natural. Suffice it to say that it was God-given, original and unadulterated. But with the advent of Christian missionaries and their agents of colonilization, who met a pattern of life that ran counter to Euro-Christian
principles, the Igbo religious society and sacred institutions experienced first attack by foreign culture, technology, education and Christianity, to the extent that it became vulnerable.
In a similar vein, the thirty months civil war remains the most brutal manifestation of onslaught on Ndigbo and their cultural heritage. The pogrom is an unpleasant chapter in the survival history of Igbo cultural practice. It led to the loss of witnesses in Igbo history and culture. The culture is still recuperating from this ugly wind of change.
Moreso, apart from the racial pride, cultural arrogance and the wrong use of obnoxious and derogatory terminologies, by the Europeans in designating the traditional religion, Igbo belief system and cultural practice suffered from indigenous indignation, indifference and total apathy in the hands of some Igbo themselves. This unpatriotic attitude is not unconnected with ignorance, adoption of western culture and total subscription to alien practices. This explains the incessant and unholy raid on sacred groves and shrines by the so called converted Christians. They invade and destroy
religious objects and in some cases sell the artifacts to Western Art Collection groups.
Consequently, the sacred rituals and practices associated with the office of medicine men, priests, diviners, rainmakers among others have been carelessly infringed upon and bastardized by unbridled quest for power, prestige, wealth and indigenous indifference of traditional customs and values. It is therefore necessarily to underscore the activities and inputs of sacred specialists so that their significance and impact will be rightly and fittingly construed.
1.3 Aim of the Study
The imitation nature of man and the wholesale adoption of Eurocentric culture have devastated and negated some cultural practices of Igbo, especially vital contributions of the sacred specialist. In fact, time is ripe for the cultural practices to be adequately represented in scholarship. It therefore behoves this work;
• To enlighten all peoples of the universe on the place of sacred specialists as well as the rich cultural heritage of Igbo.
• To help in the reconstruction of a balanced socio-religious outlook on life. As such there will be objective evaluation and appreciation of some fundamental traditional values, which were thrown to the wind by the wave of modernization and Christianity.
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